The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has urged the stakeholders to increase collaboration on social, economic and climate issues as well as to help the region punch at its weight instead of below it. The 100 most promising start-ups of the Arab world participated in the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa and engaged with industry and government leaders to discuss the future of their industries and how to add value to society.
The initiative aimed at further integrating the Arab world’s most promising start-up entrepreneurs into a national and regional dialogue on pressing challenges. The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa took place in partnership with the King Abdullah II Fund for Development (KAFD). The meeting marks the 10th hosted by Jordan since it was first convened at the Dead Sea in 2003. It brought together more than 1,000 government, business and civil society leaders from over 50 countries.
The World Economic Forum was held Dead Sea, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on 6-7 April 2019 where over 1,000 officials from 50 countries, dealt with four main themes over two days and the participants discussed several issues under the theme of Towards Building New Cooperation Systems.
The participants highlighted that the Arab world was punching below its weight and its economy should be two or three times bigger than it was today, The Middle East and North Africa is home to hundreds of millions of people yet its gross domestic product is equivalent to that of just a single country therefore a new economic model for the region was badly needed. Region needs to engage in more cooperation, we need to talk together, we need to work together. And we need the private sector … to come forward with an economic vision (which) can actually double or triple the GDP of the region. People live in a region of (hundreds of millions of ) people, but actually produce less than a small country of 5 or 6 million people elsewhere in the world.
Several concrete initiatives had emerged from the forum to support a new economic model for the region. For example, the UAE said it would offer five-year visas to entrepreneurs behind the top 100 startups that were selected to attend the forum. Another area to start greater cooperation in the region is by developing and encouraging travel in the region. Tourism is one way to overcome the unfortunate rise of protectionism and nationalism; it is also a way.
Like all other regions around the world, the Middle East and North Africa is being transformed by the advance of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The UAE is well poised for the new industrial revolution, said Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, the country’s minister for AI. We’re developing incentives for AI companies, developing incentives for data centres to move to the UAE and we understand 100% that the new industrial revolution is focused on quality data and computers.
The Bahrain Economic Development Board’s Khalid Al Rumaihi said that it is essential that the region stays at the vanguard of the new era of industrialization. I think it would be detrimental to the Middle East if we ignore what technology has to offer, he said. Not just for the technology and its sake but the jobs. He added, ultimately all of us in the Middle East need to create jobs and these jobs are going to come in the future as engineer, coder, data scientists.
Less than a quarter of women in MENA are employed and, according to the ILO, the region has the lowest global representation for women in management and leadership positions. Though progress has been slow, this could be about to change as governments and business leaders wake up to the huge opportunity that bringing more women into the workforce would bring to the region.
In the session The Rise of Arab Women, Saudi Arabia’s first female lawyer Sofana Rabea Dahlan described how it took 13 years for her to get qualified due to gender discrimination. But she says through persistence and patience she obtained her licence. It taught me that we have to have patience in our people, in our systems, we have to have be able to open the dialogue, no matter how long it takes, she said.
Meanwhile, Sahar Nasr, Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation said that it is important for government ministers such as herself to keep striving to amend laws that undermine women. These are the things that we review as policy-makers, and this is where Parliament lays an active role and there has to be an article where people just get access, she said.
The themes included Building a new economic model, managing a suitable environment for the Arab world, reaching a common ground in a multi-polar world and the industrial revolution in the Arab world. During the forum, 32 sessions were held on several topics related to the new standards of public education, geographical distribution of banks i n t h e region, new health care platforms, investment in human resources and cyber risk management.
Participants highlighted globalization and r o l e o f technolo g y i n tackling corruption and shaping the future of tourism in Jordan. They also discussed the issue of peace and conflict in the region, new energy in the Middle East, prospects for geopolitical situation and fifth generation developments in communications.
They discussed water challenges in the region, the role of women in economic development, the importance of data, the future of smart cities, the redistribution of responsibilities and tasks in the region, the future of Islamic banking, solid waste management and reconstruction in the region, environmental leadership and the design of modern industry. The forum sessions witnessed general discussions on energy and natural resources in a number of Arab countries, as well as discussing the status of the Middle East, Asia and Europe in a global context.
Addressing the opening plenary session of the Forum, the host King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein said that the Kingdom of Jordan aimed to build on the foundation of young population to spur economic growth and innovation. Our most important strength is Jordan’s high-skill human capital. Our young people are globally connected, tech-savvy, fluent in multiple languages and determined to succeed. They are proven assets to every enterprise. And we have already seen this strength at work, in the success of Jordan’s ICT industry, which has created thousands of new jobs and accessed markets across the region and beyond. Women are a critical part of our economic future.
Reflecting on the theme of the meeting, Building New Platforms of Cooperation, the king stressed, it takes a broad partnership to create a platform for economic growth – private-sector investment and productivity at every level, including small and medium-sized enterprises; a public sector that supports business confidence and economic success; and global partners to flow investments into positive futures.
Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria, picked up on the theme of cooperation. In this digital age where physical borders no longer exist to protect even the most secure nations, the only way to overcome predatory and divisionary forces is for all well-meaning nations to work together for the greater good of mankind, he said. Simply put, cooperation among sovereign nations is no longer a choice. It is an absolute necessity.
The Nigerian president stated, in the last 10 years, the world as we knew it has completely changed” due to factors such as technology, demographic shifts and migration, trade and geopolitics, and climate change. Countries of the MENA region and sub-Saharan Africa have had to combat terrorism, including the threat of Boko Haram in his country. On the topic of economic diversification and social inclusion policies, including efforts to expand the agricultural sector, Buhari noted, in this new world without borders, my personal view is that stability and sustainability can only be achieved through inclusive economic growth, and enhanced cooperation among nations.
Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, New York, said that he hopes that the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa will build on recent official meetings in London and Brussels to help bring growth and prosperity to Jordan and the rest of the region. Guterres also called for a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “with Jerusalem as the capital of the two countries.
The UN leader added, the most systemic challenge we face today is climate change. While noting recent extreme events around the globe, such as fires in California and flooding in Mozambique, he drove the issue home by noting the increased water stress in Jordan and the rest of the region. It is high time that we have more urgency and ambition. The UN will host a climate change summit in New York in September. I am asking leaders to come not with speeches, but with plans for mitigation, adaptation and finance, he said. Countries like Jordan that do not contribute that much to climate change cannot be among the biggest victims.
Author is the President, Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR) and Editor-in-Chief of ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’ and ‘ The Asian Telegraph’